Christmas is coming, as they probably say in Game of Thrones at this time of year, and Danny Rogers, Editor of PR Week, is wondering how many Christmas campaigns, will follow the route of ‘cause marketing’.

Danny says; “When companies get it right, cause marketing is not only highly effective but can be transformative for that organisation. Campaign for Real Beauty helped almost double Dove’s global sales to $4.8bn from 2003 to 2015. At a time when trust in institutions is near rock bottom it is incumbent on organisations to take a lead on a better world. But this must be a fundamental ethical corporate strategy.”

Both good points, but why call it ‘cause marketing’? To do so silos this approach to comms into some adjunct of strategy. It’s an old-fashioned view and misses the point.

The ‘cause marketing’ Danny is referring to has been traditionally led by advertisers. He says the backlash that has reverberated from the misplaced campaigns of Dove and McDonald’s has made ‘purpose marketing’ risky.

I don’t buy that. As every advertiser will know, the IPA has proven long-term, newsworthy and shareable campaigns that make lots of people feel something about a brand generate stronger business and brand effects than those that don’t.

A comms strategy predicated on that approach is not risky, it is commercially astute. Quite a few industry people have called time on the ability of Mad Men (or Women) to get that kind of work right. But that is because the ad world seems to have forgotten how to follow its own theory, not that the theory is no longer right.

Campaigning is not about picking a cause out of a box once a year and hanging it off your marketing strategy like some frayed old bauble clinging to your Christmas tree. All businesses looking to achieve long-term growth, increase the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing, raise awareness of an issue, change perceptions of a brand, influence public policy or change the behaviour of audiences should be looking to develop long-term campaigns that have a broader relevance outside their core business.

You do that by understanding the problem facing your audience, taking a position on how to solve it and then taking action that has a commercial edge, not just altruistic intent. The last point is how you ensure credibility and de-risk backlash.

This may seem like semantics, but Danny starts his article by asking; “When is cause marketing a good idea and when is it not?” adding, “This is a question that continues to vex client marketers and comms professionals alike”.

If you’re having to ask yourself what is the value of a comms strategy proven to deliver sustained growth and elevate all your comms then it’s not a question of semantics. No one should be vexed by that question.

Cause marketing is not a thing. If people think it is, then they are looking at things the wrong way.

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